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Thursday, May 28, 2015


In the wildly entertaining 1969 novel Slaughterhouse Five, written by Kurt Vonnegut, the time-travelling war hero Billy Pilgrim is transported to the planet Tralfamadore where he and his mate, the voluptuous pornstar Montana Wildhack, are enclosed in a zoo and observed by the alien race, who watch them copulate through little peepholes. O, the virtues of voyeurism! But that is neither here nor there. The fact is, Montana wears a heart-shaped locket around her neck in memory of her mother. On it are inscribed these words:

"God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom always to tell the difference."

The Serenity Prayer, as it is called, is attributed to the American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr and has been adopted by Alcoholics Anonymous and other 12-step programs. In Vonnegut's book, Wildhack's mother was an alcoholic. But you don't need to "have a problem" to apply this wisdom to life; nor should you. Science is at last verifying the applicability of the virtue of acceptance to everyday events.

This according to new research from Johns Hopkins University, which appeared in a paper published in March 2015 on the website of the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science:

In the traditional view of control, a person takes action to ensure success in both the near and long terms. Primary control is gaining mastery by striving for goals and asserting one's will upon circumstances. But it turns out that “secondary control,” usually given short shrift in both the scientific literature and Western attitudes, and described as acceptance that life can’t always be bent to human will, is the wise choice in many of life's situations. Because most of daily living is simply "out of one's hands" as the saying goes, compelling the religiously-minded to commend her fate to a Higher Power with the words, "Thy will be done!" A saying for every season.

As assistant professor Eric Helzer, who was involved in the study, notes: "You don't have control over a lot of situations, at work or elsewhere in your life. But you do have control over your response to it, over the meaning you assign to the event."

Taking a big-picture, reflective view of life could "succeed in promoting feelings of daily happiness, warmth, and peace," even in the face of negative experiences. Gaining mastery over your circumstances doesn't mean conquering them. And acceptance is not a passive, last-resort strategy. It adds to a richer notion, characterized by greater satisfaction, of what it means to live a full life.

Each method of control, primary as well as secondary, operates in a unique way and contributes significantly to a person's sense of well-being. The wisdom, as written between those big titties, is telling the difference.

And since we're swapping sayings, remember: "Practice makes perfect."

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